A good veggie burger is supposed to make you not miss meat. But I don't miss meat. I had my last "real" burger in 1995, and I haven't longed for one since.
That said, I do remember how a well-assembled burger—flesh or not—should taste. It shouldn't require a fork, though it does need more than one napkin. The roll should be plush, but firm enough to withstand the assault of any number of toppings. And the "meat" itself should be toothsome and bond well; no Manwich night, this. Many area chains make the concession to veg eaters with a Boca or Gardenburger patty on the menu. Burgerville usually offers a spicy black bean Gardenburger as well—however, at the time of this writing, they are not offering it due to ingredient quality issues. But I wanted more.
So I set out searching high (end) and low (end) to see if a more interesting meat-free combination existed in town.
118 NE 28th Ave., 235-2794.
I open the door to this exposed-brick joint and walk smack into a raging child's birthday party, with one of the under-5's loudly refusing to put her AC/DC shirt back on, while the speakers blast Dolly Parton. My dining companions get regular burgers, while I exaggeratedly mouth my order for the meat-free Vegiriffic ($7.50) to the waitress. When they all are served, it looks like an archipelago of buns. While the bun is indeed beach umbrella-sized, size doesn't matter: The burger is a bland, blobby mixture tasting only of rice and oatmeal. It looks like porridge on a roll. It's accompanied by boring crinkle-cut chips. I feel the need to immediately buy something else, anything, to get this taste out of my mouth.
2375 NW Thurman St., 222-5658.
Needing a quick fix at lunch one day, I dash to Food Front on Northwest Thurman Street. This co-op grocery store has the usual grocery items (and usual co-op store smell, sorry; it's like how all Subway restaurants smell alike), but its back deli area houses a hidden gem: the Superburger ($5.99). I get one to go, and on the walk back to the office, the moisture of the fresh, non-mealy tomato, lettuce and tempeh patty and cheddar nicely permeate the whole wheat roll, all coalescing into a wonderful sum of scrumptious. By the time I get to my desk and eat it, it's delightfully burgery, with just the right bit of mess. It was so good I just wish it were bigger.
Kenny & Zuke's
1038 SW Stark St., 222-3354.
Because I'm on a quest, and because I've loved everything else I've had at K&Z's, I order the veggie burger, though there are about 700 other things I'd have rather ordered instead. But I soldier on. The veggie burger ($9.50) gives a nod to NYC deli culture, arriving awash in Russian dressing, coleslaw and neon-green, delicious housemade pickles. But the burger itself, made of zucchini and squash, oddly resembles a potato latke—fried and starchy. And the dry roll disappoints; I should have asked for it on a bagel. I chalk this one up as my own damn fault and vow to order the veggie Reuben, which changes often, but is usually a pleasing mix of zucchini, mushrooms, cheese, and sauerkraut, next time in flavorful penance.
1707 SE Tenino St., 236-4537.
The only other time I've been to Mike's was a post-dental work visit for a milkshake, most of which dribbled out of my mouth. But the sandwich options at this Sellwood spot had seemed appealing, so I return at lunchtime on a Saturday, which is anything but chill; the place is swarming with families. I order a Gardenburger ($4.35), and get it with cheddar and mushrooms, fries and a soda—because, what the hell. The mushrooms don't show up, but I don't care, as the rest is so underwhelming—a microwaved Gardenburger, a crumbly onion roll, shredded lettuce, anemic tomato. The only thing not beige is the cute red plastic basket it comes in. Next time, I'll stick to the black-and-white cow shake. Mmmm.
1800 NW 16th Ave., 241-4313.
The veggie burger ($9.50) at modernist Northwest coffee shop Sydney's is nuts. Like, literally. Not only is it so tall that even the most seasoned porn star would have a hard time wrapping his or her mouth around it, but it's made of all nuts—an excessively rich and buttery mixture of them. It's as nicely browned as a regular burger, but I can't begin to calculate the grams of fat in this thing. Still, it's probably good fat, I reason, as I deconstruct it to about nine inches, nibble, and eventually give up. However, the ciabatta roll it's on is airy and fabulous dipped into the accompanying broccoli soup. In addition, their housemade ketchup totally works, tasting more of roasted red peppers than boring old tomato.
The Farm Cafe
10 SE 7th Ave., 736-3276.
I'd never been to the Farm, and it was another scenario where the Farmhouse Veggie Burger ($10) was just one of many selections on the menu that looked appealing. But, bolstered by the fact that I can return for them, I go ahead and order the burger. The Farm's version is eggplant-based, with bread crumbs on the outside. It holds together surprisingly well, a lovely meld of firm and salty and crunchy. It's also not small, though it thankfully arrives cut in half, for easier burger-hand-mouth management. It comes with a huge heap of salad that is perfectly dressed. I leave feeling comfy, toasty and sighing with veggie burger satisfaction.